Tag Archives: Birds

Day 12 – Tortuga Lodge. More Monkeying About

Thursday 2 March 2023 – Two activities were in the frame for the day, both (surprise!) involving wildlife watching and, as it happens, both led by Miguel “Monkey” with his usual blend of passion, knowledge and cheeriness.  The first was a morning boat ride around the local waters to catch wildlife at the start of the day so, guess what? An early start. Again. Fourth time on the trot. No wonder I’m such a poor wildlife photographer normally. I can’t be arsed to get up at the right time to catch them at it.  However, when we’re travelling, early mornings seem to be (a) not uncommon and (b) normally quite a good idea.

0430 alarm, then.

The Lodge was, as ever, well organised.  Breakfast is not served until later, but coffee, tea and biccies were available before we set off at 0600. In fact, the relentless stream of never-before-seen wildlife started before then, as a Green Basilisk Lizard could be seen on a branch, waiting for the sun to warm him up.

We set off in an open boat similar to this one (and grateful that it wasn’t raining),

past some engagingly ramshackle properties on the waterside

and soon Miguel took the boat towards the bank and started indulging in his favourite game: “What can you see?  It’s right in front of your nose”. As usual, I couldn’t see anything apart from foliage, but after patient guidance from Miguel and Jane, I eventually spotted the sloth.

You can make out a dark strip down its back, which means it’s a male three-toed sloth. Of course.

We saw a selection of birds at the water’s edge.

We saw another sloth, also a three-toed sloth, as you can see the three finger claws identifying it.

You can also clearly see the green tinge on part of its coat. This is moss, which won’t gather on a rolling stone but will on an immobile sloth.

Miguel had some more fun with us being unable to see what was in front of our noses.  Eventually, we all spotted it.

A Caiman – a small one, actually.  They can grow to four and a half metres, but this one was much smaller. Exactly how much smaller, I don’t know since everything except snout and eyes was underwater.

Miguel then took us into the system of creeks around the area, which have some lovely scenes

and, of course, more wildlife that was difficult to spot.

These are Boat-billed Night Herons and they couldn’t have been more than a couple of metres away. However, because I was looking for something further away, my eyes initially slid over what was actually directly in front of me and quite close.

We had a little cabaret with Green Ibises.  There was a female in a tree

and, in an adjacent tree, three males were fighting over her.

Typical male behaviour, eh?  Fighting for a shag, or, in this case, an Ibis.

Some obvious things could be seen, such as the Greater Spotted Kayakers (well, I spotted them, anyway)

who were also trawling the creeks for wildlife.

Miguel called the Charlie a “feminist”.  Each female’s territory encompasses those of one to four males who (unusually) do all the hard work – building nests, looking after the chicks, that stuff. The females are larger than the males and get to do the macho things like fighting off predators.

We saw another Caiman, a Spectacled Caiman, so-called because of the bony ridge which you can just see running between the eyes,

and some Spider Monkeys, including one very well-endowed male.

and then it was time to get back to the Lodge for breakfast.

Our second excursion of the day was to walk up the only hill in the area. I made a bit of a tactical error here by using my camera’s normal lens (instead of the lovely long lens which has enabled me to bring some of the photos above to you) because I thought the emphasis of the walk would be on scenery rather than wildlife, Our guide was Miguel again, so that was the wrong call, but the walk wasn’t an entire dead loss, photographically speaking.

The start was a boat ride away, and, as we waited to board, one of the Lodge’s resident iguanas came over to see what was going on.

A shortish boat ride took us to our start point, where we were counted off the boat by officials from the national park.

The trail around the hill is a concrete path with information boards at various points. Miguel, being Miguel, almost immediately spotted something that it took the rest of us quite some time to see,  It’s in this scene.

Can you see any animal there?  I never really got to see what was there, which was a Potoo.

That’s the best I can do – it’s roughly in the centre of the picture and it’s a weird-looking beast, one of a group of birds related to the nightjars and frogmouths.

Jane had a go with her phone and got frankly better results than me – but it’s not at all clear, which makes it all the more remarkable that Miguel could see it.

Here’s what one looks like close to (courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica).

Potoo (image credit – Britannica.com)

To be honest, I’m not sure that having the longer lens would have helped, but I was a bit frustrated about my choice of gear.


We carried on walking, and came across a Pale-billed Woodpecker doing his wood pecking thing.

and we saw another Eyelash Palm Pitviper.

These vipers are potentially deadly, but not big.  Miguel broke his own rule by getting off the path to take a close up for someone. You can just see the viper on the left of the picture.

We also came across some more Spider Monkeys

before we started our climb of the steps that take one up The Hill.

We were told that there were 402 steps. Wrongly, as it turns out.  I counted them and I reckon there are 431.  Anyway, the view from the top is pretty good.

The village you can see is San Francisco de Tortuguero, and you can also see that the land is generally very flat.  If you look towards the hill from above the Lodge, you can see that the hill is the only significant high spot in the area.  It was originally created by volcanic activity.

A short boat ride back to the Lodge completed our activities for the day, a day made all the more enjoyable, absorbing and educational by the passion and knowledge of “Monkey”.  Here’s to you Miguel!

Having returned to the Lodge, we could head for lunch and the rest of the day at leisure – or, in my case, writing up things for these pages.

Whilst I was doing that, Jane took some video of Montezuma’s Oropendolas flying in and out of their extraordinary nests, which were dangling from a palm tree in the Lodge grounds.

Thus ended our short stay at Tortuga Lodge – good food, excellent service, great guiding, and overall a very well-executed operation. The morrow sees us moving on to our next port of call on the Caribbean coast in the south east of the country.  The vibe here is reportedly very different from the rest of Costa Rica, so come along with us and find out, eh?


Day 9 – Bijagua to Fortuna

Monday 27 February 2023 – All we had to do today was to get ourselves from Bijagua to our next stop, La Finca Lodge near La Fortuna, a two-hour drive roughly back towards San José in the centre of the country.

We achieved this without problems but not without distractions, mainly in the form of new birds to see on the feeders at Casitas Tenorio before we left.

(Those with a keen eye will notice that the nice folk at Easily, who host my website, have managed to sort out the problem that made it impossible for me to upload photos and videos, which cramps one’s style as a blog writer somewhat.)

Jane also managed to get a great video of the Montezuma Oropendola’s extraordinary call, which is accompanied by a unique display.

A coati got in on the action, too.

and Nana, the manager, fed the pizza that we couldn’t finish to the B&B’s dogs, Whisky and Dingo.

We were on the point of leaving when Nana’s husband pointed out a very unusual critter on one of the table ornaments.

He opined that it was an ogre-faced spider, but a swift Google search disabused us of that notion.  We showed this picture to a chap who was described to us as a professional naturalist who initially had no idea what it was.  Eventually, he thought it might be a leaf-mimic katydid. Whatever, it’s a weird beast.

We took our leave of Casitas Tenorio, which had been a very well-organised and pleasant place to stay and started the drive over to La Finca Lodge.  The roads were basically fine, with good surfaces, which made the whole thing more relaxing. The countryside was very pleasant, and Jane grabbed some shots of it as we went by.

One thing we noticed as we drove along, that marks Costa Rica out to us from pretty much anywhere else we’ve visited is something that I hadn’t explicitly clocked until Scott, the American chap on our tour last night, pointed it out.

The place is immaculate.

There is no litter. None.

Coming from the UK, where paths and roads are littered with burger boxes, nitro gas canisters and Red Bull cans, I find this extraordinary. The buildings may on occasion be ramshackle, but the place is spotless.

I wish the UK could find this sense of civic pride.

Our plan had been to visit, and indeed have lunch at, the Observatory Lodge in the park of the Arenal Volcano, which is one of Costa Rica’s better-known features. It was dormant until 1968, when it erupted dramatically and unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón. Arenal’s eruption from 1968 to 2010 is the tenth longest duration volcanic eruption on Earth since 1750. Since 2010, though, it has been dormant, which makes visiting the area slightly less daunting.

What was daunting, however, was the surface of the road that Waze suggested was the route to the lodge, which was something of a detour from the direct route to La Finca.  It was rough, boulder-strewn and cratered. We managed to do about half a kilometre before deciding that life was too short to endure any more.   So we turned round and resumed our journey to La Finca.  As we approached, we saw the countryside dotted with vividly-coloured trees.

We subsequently found out that this is called Corteza Amarilla, and we were exceedingly lucky to see its display, as it flowers like this for just one week every year.

Waze took us towards La Finca with unerring accuracy but its directions left us halted outside a large and rather forbidding-looking metal gate.  We weren’t sure (a) whether it was an entrance to La Finca or (b) what to do about getting in if it was. At that point, a car coming in the opposite direction stopped and its driver wound down his window, so I did the same.  He asked, in really quite good English, if he could help and we said we were looking for La Finca.  He confirmed it was, and did some magic which opened the gate for us.  We have no idea who he was or how come he could work this magic, but we were very grateful anyway.

We drove in and were greeted very cordially at their reception and shown to our room, which was called Gecko.  It was a very nice, large room

with, to Jane’s delight, a hammock on the veranda.  She lost no time in getting acquainted with it whilst I had a well-earned kip started backing up, selecting and processing photos for this blog.  Whilst she was resting out there, she had a small visitor, a humming bird of some description.

Come 6 o’clock we headed over to La Finca’s restaurant, where we had a very decent evening meal.  We also met Esteban, the founder and owner of the place, a charismatic, knowledgeable and slightly roguish man.  As part of our Pura Aventura itinerary, we could choose between various options for the following day – a float along the river spotting wildlife, hiking around a park with many waterfalls, a visit to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, a trip to see the Hanging Bridges of La Fortuna, and so on. Esteban was clearly very clued-up about the benefits of each and helped us make our selection.  We decided on the Arenal trip and an afternoon on the hanging bridges. The Arenal Observatory Lodge is in the volcano’s national park and features various trails and significant opportunity to see – you guessed it – wildlife.  This meant an early start the next day to give us the best chance to spot it, in the company of a very knowledgeable guide (the chap we puzzled with our katydid photo).

We agreed that the time to start was (sigh) 0730, so we headed back to our Gecko room after dinner with an intention to get an early night, which was only slightly spoiled by my staying up rather too long creating some of the deathless prose that you will already have read. You have, haven’t you? Good.

So, tune in tomorrow to see (a) whether we got up in time on the morrow and ( b) whether we had a good day. Spoiler alert: we did.

Day 7 (morning) – Tapir Valley Nature Reserve

Saturday 25 February 2023 – Travelling offers experiences that are rich, rewarding and fulfilling.

Getting up at 0345 is not among them.

However, a deal is a deal, we’d agreed that a morning hike was Just The Thing as part of our Bijagua experience, and anyway we’d paid for it. So an 0345 alarm call was necessary in order for us to present ourselves at the entrance to the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve at 0520  having attended to our toilette and eaten the rudimentary breakfast that the Casitas management had thoughtfully provided for us the day before.   But first we had to try to get some sleep. Apart from anything else it sounded like a major storm blew all night, with heavy winds and lashing rain on the corrugated iron roof of our Casita.  Despite the racket and at least one outside light mysteriously turning itself on and equally mysteriously off again during the night, we managed to get under way in reasonable order.

Finding the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve turned out to be slightly less than straightforward.  You might think that such a thing would be advertised or signposted from the road.

It isn’t.

We relied on instructions from Pura Aventura, which directed us to look for green gates on the right hand side, and Waze to give us a clue as to exactly where they were.  We arrived there pretty much bang on at 0520 and


Just darkness and padlocked green gates. We had a few “Bay of Fundy” moments, wondering if something, somewhere had gone pear-shaped in the arrangements before, to our relief, a chap on a motorcycle turned up with the means of opening the padlocked gates.


The motorcyclist turned out to be Abner, who was to be our guide for the morning hike.


(He, by the way, was the expert who identified for us the Groove-billed Ani that we saw yesterday.) He equipped us with wellies – something the nature reserve insists on because it mitigates the spread of unwelcome parasites into the ecosystem of the Nature Reserve. Said ecosystem also pretty muddy in places, so this also saves on your own footwear.

The Tapir Valley Nature Reserve is a private nature reserve, covering some 114 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest, and is dedicated to ecosystem development. A group of concerned citizens purchased the land over ten years ago with the vision of protecting valuable rainforest habitat for many animals, including the endangered Baird’s Tapir.

The prime purpose of our hike was birdwatching (early morning being the best time to see them). We explained to Abner that we weren’t avid birdwatchers but we weren’t averse to looking for large colourful ones (as opposed to the LBJs – little brown jobs – that send twitchers into paroxysms of ecstasy). So seeing that Li’l Abner was toting a scope didn’t at first set my mind at rest, since I was after stuff you could photograph, not something that needed a scope to see.  In the event, the scope wasn’t needed, except that a couple of times it enabled Abner to identify a bird before pointing it out to us.  He was kind enough to use the scope to get a photo for me on my mobile phone


which was kind of him, but didn’t really produce the results I would want.  That bird, by the way is a Montezuma Oropendula, and I did get a good photo of it later, in case you were worried.  It has the most extraordinary call.


I should be clear at this point that the morning was what the Irish might call “soft”


which doesn’t ease the process of spotting birds.  Nor does the birds’ rather annoying habit of being largely difficult to distinguish from the abundant foliage of this basically forested area.


That’s a Crested Guan, by the way.  Also, many of them can only be seen at a great distance. For example, there is a toucan in this picture. Really, there is.


Look carefully and you can make out a Kill Bill Toucan.


OK, OK, it’s really called a Keel-billed Toucan, but where’s the fun in that?

So Abner’s ability to spot and identify birds under these circumstances was rather handy. You can therefore imagine that I was a bit worried that I was going to come away with very few worthwhile photos. However, the good folk at the Nature Reserve had a trick or two up their sleeve. There are a couple of comfortable bird watching platforms set up


with bird feeding stations located nearby.


which give great opportunities for close up viewing – and, importantly for me, photographing – the various species of birds which come to feed:

Yellow-throated Toucan;


Montezuma Oropendula;


Black-cheeked Woodpecker;


and Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-coloured Thrush


The good folks at the Nature Reserve had also provided us with some refreshment, which gave Abner a break whilst we clicked and videoed away.


Some extra entertainment was available in the shape of a coatimundi (also called just a coati in this part of the world) fossicking around the bird feeding stations for any scraps that might be available.


As we left this station, the weather had cheered up a bit and the wetland area of the Nature Reserve looked really rather attractive.


We visited another birdwatching platform and I was able to take some photos of flowers where a humming bird had been just instants before.  And as we walked around the reserve, we also saw an Eyelash Palm Pitviper.


It really is there, tightly wrapped in a ball, and fast asleep.


We would never have spotted it, but Abner knew it was there. And we saw a pair of Great Curassows.


All of this was wonderful, and it was great to have had the chance to see these birds and capture some nice photos. But I’ve told the story of the morning a bit out of sequence to keep for you the best, most surprising and loveliest moment of the day, which actually happened quite early on.

At one point, Abner stopped in his tracks in surprise at this scene.


What, you may ask, is so surprising?

There’s  a tapir in it. Oh, yes there is.

You might think “so what – you’re in the Tapir Valley Reserve”, but actually we were really, really lucky, since tapirs are nocturnal. We were able to get closer and closer and finally got some great video. To see one in the daytime is extremely unusual.

To see two, however, was special – a mother with her 8-month-old calf. Tapirs are a species that relatively little is known about.  They are ancient, having  migrated into South America during the Pleistocene epoch from North America after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama as part of the Great American Interchange. Their nearest genetic relations are, unintuitively, the horse and the rhino. The reserve is important in its ability to gather information about the lifecycle and habits of this remarkable creature.  You can see that Mamita is wearing a collar; this is a GPS tag so that her movements can be followed and mapped out with a view to gain deeper insight.

One of the activities the Reserve is carrying out is research into the relationship between the tapirs and a tree, Parmentiera Valerii.  The tapir is one of the only animals which can eat the tough cucumber-like fruit of this tree and thence distribute its seeds through defecation. The trails around the nature reserve are frequently dotted with piles of tapir faeces, to the extent that one really has to watch one’s step.

Abner gave us one final treat, which was to see the strange nests of the Montezuma Oropendula.  This bird gets part of its name from the fact that its nests are suspended below the branches of trees, and en route back to our B&B after the great morning at the reserve, Abner showed us a tree with the nests.


Here they are in close-up.


So ended a remarkable morning. Once again we’d been really lucky and seen something unusual.  But our day wasn’t over yet – come back to the next entry to see what we did with the afternoon!